Monday, December 31, 2012

A Little Rhyme for the Brand New Year

One contented mama, sitting on a window sill,
looking at a stack of books, enjoying peace until...

...a brown-eyed child appears, 
in her hands a princess book.

She climbs up in the window
to take another look.

Soon THIS young lady walks right up
to chat for just a while...

and another warm tobogganed kid
drops by to share a smile.

Four bookish happy cozy folks now sit
in the chilly window frame...

when a cute pink pair of boots trot up
who share the same last name.

Close behind that pair of cute pink boots,
my Man should happen by share a little grin with me,
then he sits and shuts his eyes.

A bookstore in the evening.
Falling snow to add some cheer.
My family gathered all around
to greet the brand New Year!

Happy Happy Happy Happy
New Year
The Wright Place!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sittin' Pretty

I ordered the wrong pizza last night.

Nobody seemed to care as much as I did but I can't seem to get over it. We order pizza maybe a half-dozen times a year and it is such a treat to open the lid and lean into the dreamy scent of the cheesy steam that escapes the box. Last night when I opened the box I expected to see a puffy crust encircling a delicate 6-cheese combination of loveliness, instead there was thin crust. Two boxes full of thin crust.

The thin crust and I, we are not friends.

I'd ordered on my phone with an app and when I hit the little button that said "Complete Order" I actually said aloud, "What is this world coming to? I can order pizza on the way home from the store, from the car without talking to a single person. It's really kind of amazing isn't it?" To which my Man said with all of the wonder that he could muster, "Yes, it really is."

I was significantly less amazed when I opened the pizza box.

What really is amazing is how a poorly selected button on a pizza app on my phone can still be irking me all these many hours later. My Man, in response to this morning's replay of the pizza lamentations, said "You just need a pizza do over don't ya?"

"Oh yes," I said grinning big that he understood. "On that and so much more."

Often the days between Christmas and New Year's are generally a time of mentally tweaking the celebration that has been. Smiling about what went well, and wishing that an event or two had gone differently. I'll think of a Christmas card that should have been mailed that wasn't. I'll remember something I'd wanted to do this year that was cast aside once more. I'll be wanting to have made a different plan with the allocation of resources... be it time or energy or finances.

"I need a bunch of do overs this year," I told him and then listed a handful of examples for emphasis.

"Ah," said he nodding, "but today is good."

He's not wrong.

In the kitchen, the fridge is full (including left-over thin crust pizza which will be lunch) and so is the crock pot.

Outside, six inches of snow covers the ground and the trees and the mailbox.

Upstairs, the voice of an excited seven-year-old makes plans to disrupt the peaceful snowy scene with sleds and snowballs.

On the TV there will be football and lots of it.

In a make-shift beauty salon a while ago, a four-year-old was given free reign with her mama's fingernails

Beside me right now is a stack of books, selected with care and given as a gift.

On the other side of me sits my Man, who has the flu, but who still thinks that today is good.

And it really, really is.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Christmas Post

It's Christmas evening and bedtime approaches. As usual I'm perched on the couch, feet up, and  reflecting. The days leading up to today have been filled to bursting with "want to's" and "must do's" and the sudden break in the schedule today has been such a welcome one.

Our day began with some forced stillness...

"Christmas morning," said Cole, "otherwise known as the ONLY day of the year that Molly ever sleeps in!"

Eventually, after all sleepy heads were accounted for, our Christmas morning officially began.

We had a lovely day of presents and play. 

Nowhere to be except TOGETHER, which was indeed my favorite gift of all.

Christmas Posts from the archives...
  • Christmas Rest {2009}
  • Christmas Day Delights {2010}
  • The Eves {2010}
  • Merry Christmas {2011}

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Cure for the Ho-Hum Christmas

As the Christmas season approaches each year I am usually giddy with expectation. I'm not even irked when Christmas displays share department store space beside of swimsuits. When the first cold snap hits, I start thinking about snickerdoodles and eggnog lattes. It's all about the anticipation.

This year however, is not one of those years. This year my Christmas spirit has been somewhat timid. My fire just won't seem to ignite. I'm like a lighter that has just run out of fluid - the click produces a promising spark but then...nothing. I feel a bit like the house below on the right...

It's not the first Christmas that I've been a slow starter and I'm sure it won't be the last, but the responsibility to lead the family charge into the season, to be the source of the Christmas spirit, as it were, weighs heavy.

That's the large, glaring problem. Isn't it?

I am not, nor will I ever be the Keeper of the Family Christmas, much less the source of its spirit. That position was filled long ago by the manger-Baby and no other need attempt such status. I already knew that of course, but I feel the pressure nonetheless.

I may rightly claim my place as chief cookie baker, boss of the elves, hanger of the greens, Christmas craft supervisor even, but never the source of the Christmas spirit...never. I've been approaching this season very much like an old nativity set the kids have played with for years, it's a cute little set, but the Baby Jesus was lost amid all of the Christmas decoration years ago.

Just before December began my Man told me about a wonderful Christmas Advent ebook by John Piper called Good News of Great Joy which is free, and downloadable to my eReader. I have recommended it to everyone who will listen because many of Piper's Christmas musings strike my search for the Savior amidst the shiny plastic of this season at its heart.

Directions for downloading the ebook are here.

Another book that helps to reset my Advent perspective goes by two titles. Written by wordsmith Max Lucado, it was originally released as A Cosmic Christmas and has since been re-released as An Angel's Story.

My family and I have read aloud this fictional account of the Christmas story through the eyes of the angels who lend an amazing perspective of what could have been happening in the unseen world as the heavens prepared for the Savior's birth. It's also available, though not free, in ebook form on Kindle (here) or on Nook (here). I suspect you will find this short story well worth the price.

I'm a Christmas music fanatic and feel that it is NEVER too early to start listening to Christmas tunes. My Man however has a strict (ish) "only after Thanksgiving" rule that I try to abide by when he's around. My all-time favorite Christmas album will always be Amy Grant's Home for Christmas
and I always find instrumental albums like this one so peaceful and calming. This year in our home and car this brand new album by Francesca Battestelli is getting lots of play.

These items have helped to kindle my Christmas spirit because they have, each in their own way, re-directed my attention to the reason we the One we celebrate! 

AND...a dear new nativity has found its way into our home and our hearts which is NOT missing the Baby Jesus...I pray your Christmas season finds you in exactly the same condition!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

One Word at a Time

Nothing in me wanted to go out for a run this morning. Nothing. I was nervous about a twisted ankle, I was whiny about the cold weather, I was overwhelmed by all that I had to accomplish and I resented the time it was going to take me to go out and run. I knew though that if I didn't go out today, I'd feel like a real wimp.

On my way up a nasty hill I saw, coming downhill toward me, the familiar face of a lady I often saw  early in my "fitness journey".  I'd usually pass her as she walked, pushing her grandson in a stroller. At the end of my route, we'd pass once more, me walking up the big hill as she was returning home going down the hill. Always, we'd share a good morning and sometimes a sentence or two more.

Today I waved at her as she approached. She waved back and said something to me but I couldn't hear because of my headphones. I removed the plug from my ear and told her "Merry Christmas" guessing that perhaps that's what she had said. She shook her head and said smiling at me..."AMAZING!!"

I think she was commenting about my running a stretch of pavement she used always to see me walking but I think something else was AMAZING. That she, a virtual stranger, would cheer me, another stranger, on my way up a difficult hill. She could have just waved back and kept on walking but she took the time to verbally pat me on the back and then repeat it after I'd not heard her the first time. You know what else is amazing? That that one word is still making me smile here at the other end of my day. One well-placed, well-timed word from a stranger.

I wondered then how many words I'd neglected to utter today that could have had the same effect on someone heading up a difficult hill...maybe the teacher who was working the after-school shift at Target after working all day teaching kindergarten, or the little girl who displayed a good attitude in the face of extra spelling words this morning, or a friend who is enduring an insanely difficult job.

Silence is precious to me. It is so much easier to walk on by. Often I don't really want to know when the cashier's shift ends or what my four year old thinks of the episode of Dora she watched this morning, and it's scary to ask a teenager what he or she is thinking sometimes.

It's not all about me is it?

Oh, let me not be stingy with my words. Let me be sincere and generous with them so as to build up and spur on, not so I'll have something to pat myself on the back about, but because of the game-changer it could well be for another someone's day, loved-one and stranger alike.

Care to join me? We'll cover so much more territory that AMAZING word at a time!

 A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
~Proverbs 25:11~

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Kindness Observed

I had a brush with meanness not long ago. Words not directed at me or even in my general direction, meanness nonetheless. The victim of this meanness will, I pray, never know of it. Meanness is like that at times, cowardly and hidden, whispering from the shadows & tearing down by ragged inches. Meanness seeks to build up its source at all costs. One would think meanness more likely to strike clean and lethal at the target...but no, too neat, too quick, too much risk.

Meanness is a real life monster. Kindness is just as real, and just as contagious.

I also had quite a brush with kindness not long ago. Deeds not directed at me or even in my general direction but kindness rippled my way and splashed at my toes. The recipient of this kindness will not know all about its sources because kindness is quiet and graceful, building up and fortifying, shining warmth into cold crannies. Kindness doesn't desire credit or applause, kindness needs only to be received by its object.

Tonight I was the direct object of kindness. It walked up to the door, opened it, and placed in my hands a basket full of hot buttered rolls.

"You said earlier that you were having soup for dinner tonight," Kindness said softly, "I thought you might enjoy these with it."

She'd made an extra trip. She has her own family to feed. She had had a long day too. She turned on her oven for me! Kindness in a basket, tucked under a linen napkin to stay warm.  Kindness quietly expressed is kindness loudly observed and deeply appreciated.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Popcorn Cookies!

Last week when I wrote about how to pop popcorn on the stovetop, I received lots of comments about other fun things to do with popcorn. Check out the comments here. I also received an email from a friend who described an even better way to prepare popcorn...

Hey, you can also pop popcorn in a brown paper lunch bag in the microwave.  Cheap! Cheap!  No preservatives, no nothing.  Just add corn, enough to cover bottom of bag, fold top of bag down several times, and pop!  No messy, greasy soup kettle to clean! 

p.s.  if you like hot stuff, Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Sauce is really good on popcorn too! 

How 'bout that for easy and convenient? Now, since we've got the popcorn easily at hand...I've got a fun recipe to go with it or for it to go with...or for with it to go...oh dear it's beginning to feel like a Monday for sure. A few weeks ago I came across a wonderful new cookbook, written by Deb Perelman, the author of one of my favorite food blogs Smitten Kitchen.

Featured on the back cover and inside in beautifully photographed glory are these cookies.

Simple and unique, they are so easy to bake and a real adventure to eat.

Recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Here's what you need:

4 to 4 1/2 cups popcorn, buttered and salted (and unpopped kernels sorted out)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Here's what to do:
In the bowl of an electric mixer add softened butter {I used margarine in one batch and the butter batch was much better. The margarine will do if you don't want to run to the store, but if you have a choice, use the real deal} brown sugar, sugar, egg and vanilla and mix until well combined.

In a separate bowl sift together (with a whisk) the flour and the baking soda. 

With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in small batches to the sugar mixture stopping mixer from time to time to scrape the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Now for the fun, and for the trickiest part of our endeavor...fold the popcorn into the cookie dough. 

Mrs. Perelman instructs, "Fold in the cooled popcorn so that it is evenly distributed through the batter, which will seem like a ridiculous instruction because there is so much popcorn and so little cookie batter but it works."

She also says not to fret over the pieces of popcorn that will inevitably break, "the mixed-size pieces are a part of the cookie's charm."

I don't know about you, but I'm a big fan of a gal who sees charm in a cookie!

Spoon dough in very heaping tablespoon sized scoops onto cookie sheets making sure to leave 2 inches between cookies. 

Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 being very careful not to over bake. 

One recipe yields about 2 dozen cookies, give or take a few which were surely consumed in dough form! 
They really are best in buttered-popcorn-cookie-dough form, but bake them if you must!

NOTE: These cookies need to be kept in a sealed container so that they stay fresh as long as possible. Plan to eat them no longer than 2 days after baking, after that, the popcorn can get rather stale.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

In Which I Almost Let Down UPS...

"Oh," said the new-to-us UPS lady, when I answered the door, "I was told that..." her voice fell away, uncertain.

"They told you a child would answer the door?" I guessed.

"YES!" said she sort of leaning to peek over my shoulder into the house.

"The children are eating lunch right now and today, for the first time in months I've gotten to the door ahead of them." I explained with no small bit of pride.

Unimpressed and visibly disappointed, she handed me the electronic clip board and said, "I was hoping to meet Kate."

Baffled that she knew Kate's name and unused to signing for deliveries, I had taken hold of the clipboard in error and was attempting to sign the little window upside-down.

"Here," said the UPS lady, turning the gadget around in my hands, "you've got it wrong...Kate would have known that I bet."

"I'm sure she would have," said I chuckling and a little shocked that Kate seemed to be such a rock star down at the local UPS warehouse. Taking the package from her hands, I thanked the lady and promised to send Kate to the door to accept our next delivery.

Then, remembering all of the times the patient UPS delivery folks let Kate practice writing her four-letter name on their clipboards through the years as they delivered book after book to our home, I yelled for Kate...

"Kate, please lean out the front door and tell the new UPS lady that you are Kate and tell her to have a nice afternoon." With that, my child, who will not be lost in the crowd that is our family, whizzed past me, eager to make a new friend.  I stood watching out the window as the brown-clad lady outside grinned brightly and waved heartily at my famous-at-the-warehouse daughter.

Yep, I thought, that's logistics!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Alfredo for Us All!

{This is not the POPCORN recipe that I hinted about a few posts ago, but I'm certain that this is a meal you will need in your repertoire as we journey head-long into December's bustle. It's one of my family's favorite, fast, we-really-need-to-go-to-the-grocery-but-there's-enough-here-to-make-fettucini-alfredo meals. The promised popcorn recipe will appear later this week...if I don't get stuck in a laundry pile or get drawn ever further into my latest read or break an ankle dancing to Jingle Bell Rock.}

Alfredo. It's the glue that holds this family together...well, if your talkin' food, anyway. Fettucini Alfredo, though a classic dinner in many homes, was new to me until, as a college student, I visited the Olive Garden for the very first time!

I was with a group of girls from my dorm when we made a road trip to the next town to celebrate something or other and it was then that I discovered Fettucini Alfredo. Many more times in my young adult life, I would enjoy this lovely, comforting dish whether in nice Italian restaurants, or from the just-add-water Lipton package.

One day I found myself seated across the table from a young man one evening at the Olive Garden who ordered none other than Fettucini Alfredo for himself! My heart had already been atwitter because of this fellow and now, we had fettucini in common too. Bliss.

A year later we celebrated our engagement over similar plates of Alfredo and breadsticks, and a year after that we enjoyed our favorite pasta on our honeymoon. We've since celebrated many occasions, new jobs, new automobiles, successful seminary exams, in the same manner.

It has been over 20 years since my Man and I began our fettucini Alfredo celebrations at The Olive Garden. It remains our restaurant and we can still be found faithfully celebrating our wedding anniversary each year at a table for two in our local Olive Garden. It is a rare occasion that we celebrate with our entire gang, however, because we've discovered that a table for six tends to lose some of the romance and charm that we've grown to expect from our restaurant over the years.

Still, our gang of four is as fond of the creamy sauce and pasta as we are, so after many, many, many attempts to replicate the Olive Garden's Alfredo sauce, we've finally settled on a contender.

{If you are interested in the sauce that the Olive Garden shares on its website, click here. We liked it well enough but it lacked the taste of the original AND we felt it too rich for our regular consumption...6 egg yolks and almost a pint of heavy cream for 4 servings!!! Yikes!}

Here's what you'll need for our Alfredo For Us All Sauce:
{Printable version here...}
1/2 stick (1/4 c butter)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 1/2 cups shredded parmesan cheese (I've just begun using the real thing, the kind in the green container will do in a pinch though.
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (dry from jar will work too)
pasta of your choice over which to serve your Alfredo sauce

Here's what you do...

Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a sauce pan.

After butter melts, add 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup milk (or if you feel naughty use a whole cup of heavy cream, if you don't you can also use a whole cup of regular milk...just judge for yourself--you know what kind of mood you're in, I'm just here to let you know you've got options!!)

Let the milk/cream/butter mixture simmer for 3-5 minutes, but BABYSIT it, we don't want any scorched milk/cream/butter!

While you're babysitting the sauce pan, grate 1 1/2 cups of parmesan cheese...
{which always makes me think of Everybody Loves Raymond...}

...of course, you won't need as much as Robert up there! Just a healthy cup and a half...

When the milk/cream/butter has simmered, turn down the heat and add one clove of crushed garlic {if you prefer to use the minced garlic instead of a clove, use 1/2 teaspoon}.

Add the shredded parmesan....

and a pinch of nutmeg.

Taste to see if you need to add salt and or pepper and add accordingly. Stir to combine and let sauce remain over the heat for just a minute or two more to get good and hot. Finally, spoon over your pasta making sure not to serve anyone the garlic cloves.

Easier than you thought I'll bet. Tonight we went full-tilt on the cheese and served our Alfredo sauce over cheese ravioli from Sam's Club's freezer section.

Of course, if you like, you can add a bit more Parmesan to serve especially if you've got your own personal cheese grater!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Oh Thank You...

Divine Mercies
{a Puritan prayer of Thankfulness}

Thou Eternal God,

Thine is surpassing greatness, unspeakable goodness, super-abundant grace;
I can as soon count the sands of ocean’s ‘lip’ as number Thy favours towards me;

I know but a part - but that part exceeds all praise.

I thank Thee for personal mercies, 

a measure of health, preservation of body, 

comforts of house and home, 

sufficiency of food and clothing, 

continuance of mental powers, 

my family, their mutual help and support, 

the delights of domestic harmony and peace, 

the seats now filled that might have been vacant, 

my country, church, Bible, faith.


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